Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

21 February 2009

Zakaria on Canada

Finally our neighbours south of the border are paying some attention to us, and for once we look pretty good: Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. Here's Fareed Zakaria:

The legendary editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, once held a "Boring Headline Contest" and decided that the winner was "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." Twenty-two years later, the magazine was rescued from its economic troubles by a Canadian media company, which should have taught us Americans to be a bit more humble. Now there is even more striking evidence of Canada's virtues. Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it's Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system the healthiest in the world. America's ranked 40th, Britain's 44th.

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Why I decided not to be an architect

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18 February 2009

Get your kicks

In the years following the end of the Great War, paved two-lane highways were built across the United States, knitting the country together on the assumption of near universal automobile ownership. These thoroughfares reigned supreme for the next three decades, until the Interstate Highway System was built, beginning in the 1950s. Perhaps the most famous of these early highways was Route 66, which connected Chicago and Los Angeles. It was opened in 1926 and lasted until 1985, when the signs for this route were finally taken down. It was immortalized in 1946 by Bobby Troup's eponymous song, as performed below by the Nat King Cole Trio:



In 1960 Nelson Riddle composed what may well be the best ever theme music for a television show, Route 66, starring Martin Milner and George Maharis. The piano part seems an obvious homage to Cole's performance of the earlier song. Hear for yourself:



Some years ago signs were put back up along the remnants of the old route commemorating the historic role it played in the development of the 20th-century transportation infrastructure of the United States.

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16 February 2009

Genevan Psalter blog

I have just set up a blog as part of my Genevan Psalter website. In future I will be posting updates to my site and other material of interest there and will link to those from here. To get things going, I have also republished some of the major psalm-related posts from this blog to that one, so there is already a small archive. Check back for new posts and further updates.

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10 February 2009

Mature friendships

One of the things I emphasized in my last two posts on the subject is that mobility works against the maintenance of friendship over the long term. With people moving from place to place to follow jobs and promotions, it is rare these days to enjoy lifelong friends. I myself fall into that class of overeducated professionals whose career aspirations have taken them far from their birthplace. Employment in higher education seems to condemn one to living wherever one can work productively. Otherwise one risks un- or at least underemployment. From ages 18 to 32 I moved as I followed educational opportunities, initially to the Twin Cities of Minnesota, then to Toronto, then to South Bend, Indiana, and finally to Hamilton, where I have lived for nearly 22 years. During those years of studying I came to hate moving and having to say goodbye to people whom I had grown to love. I hated being a transient and feeling that I had no place to call home.

Some people are transients their whole lives. Pastors and priests, for example, never stay in one congregation or parish for very long, accepting a call elsewhere after a few years. For this reason and more, parish ministry is not an occupation that I would want to have. Even in my profession, academics often move from one institution to another, sometimes staying at one for only a year or so as a visiting professor. My more than two decades at Redeemer is certainly testimony to my aversion to moving. I've even lived in the same house for 18 years.

I could continue in this vein in my current post, but I think it is best for our purposes to assume that the mature adult is living in a place he or she can call home for the long term. How do friendships develop in this context? Are they different from the friendships formed in childhood or youth? There is, of course, always the possibility that a single friendship has matured through these three stages. If so, then it is not unreasonable to assume that it will deepen if the two lives are being lived in more or less parallel fashion. Two women graduate from school at the same time or perhaps a year or two apart. They marry at the same stage of life and begin raising families. Their children will perhaps become each other's playmates and friends. Their husbands may form their own friendship, possibly around shared interests, such as work, hobbies or sports. The wives compare notes on raising children, or the trials of marriage, or employment-related issues.

For our purposes here, it will suffice to note that mature friendships take on different forms, distinguished according to the various settings in which we find ourselves. My next post will explore marital friendship, that is, the friendship between husband and wife, which is, of course, rooted in a previous relationship developed in the course of courtship or dating.

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Bush fires down under

Please pray for our distant neighbours in Australia who have been affected by this tragedy: Fears death toll may hit 300. This is not far from where I visited three years ago.

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09 February 2009

February snippets

  • The most recent issue of catapult magazine is devoted to empire, a term much in use these days in some christian circles. Here is my own response: Reconsidering empire.

  • My review of Philip Jenkins' Lost History of Christianity was recently published in Christian History: A Forgotten Golden Age. OrthodoxyToday.org picked up my review and posted it on its own website. Christianity Today's David Neff blogs on Jenkins' book here. It's settled then: Jenkins' writings are not to be missed.

  • Speaking of whom, Jenkins has recently penned an intriguing piece comparing the current economic state of the US with a once-prosperous South American country: United States of Argentina: How inflation turned a rising power into a pauper. Here's Jenkins:
    From the 1880s, Argentina was, alongside the U.S. itself, a prime destination for European migrants. Buenos Aires was one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, in a select club that included London, Paris, Berlin, and New York City. Argentina benefited mightily from foreign investment, which it used wisely to create a strong infrastructure and an excellent system of free mass education. It had the largest and most prosperous middle class in Latin America. When World War I began, Argentina was the world’s tenth wealthiest nation.
    So what happened? Read and find out. If Jenkins is right, Argentina provides a counterexample for those who insist on believing, along with Marx and many others, that economics drives politics.

  • Probably the book I've read the most number of times over the years is H. Richard Niebuhr's classic 1951 book, Christ and Culture. I first read it as an undergraduate and, like so many others, found its five typologies helpful in understanding the historic ways Christians have approached the larger culture. Now the prolific Donald A. Carson has written a trenchant critique, Christ and Culture Revisited, on which I will have more to say in the near future. At this point I will only indicate that Carson's starting point is sound: the canonical unity of Scripture as understood from a redemptive-historical standpoint.

  • It is little known that Niebuhr's typologies were to some extent anticipated by the Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck half a century or so earlier. For a good summary of his approach, see Jan Veenhof, Nature and Grace in Herman Bavinck (also available here). Might Niebuhr have read Bavinck?

  • What will be the fate of George W. Bush's faith-based initiative under the new administration? The sticking point is whether government funds should be allocated to confessionally-based organizations that hire only those committed to their foundational vision. Though some call this discrimination and want to eliminate it, doing so would, of course, threaten the religious identities of such groups. John J. DiIulio, Jr., weighs in on the matter: Obama and the Faith-Based Initiative. DiIulio was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and is thus well-positioned to offer an assessment.

  • My friend Stanley Carlson-Thies, who worked alongside DiIulio in 2001-2, has recently begun the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, which "works to safeguard the religious identity, faith-based standards and practices, and faith-shaped services of faith-based organizations across the range of service sectors and religions, enabling them to make their distinctive and best contributions to the common good." I wish him well in this new endeavour and hope the group's website is up and running soon. In the meantime, further information can be had by contacting the following address: info[at]irfAlliance[dot]org.

  • At evening prayer I've been making my way through the book of I Samuel, which records the establishment of the united Israelite monarchy under Saul and David. The editors of the Bible I'm using trace at least two authorial sources in the narrative, an "Early Source" and a "Late Source." The Early Source is said to be largely positive towards the monarchy, while the Late Source is more negative. It is, of course, possible that more than one hand is responsible for the book, but it is just as likely that a single author would have been capable of understanding that the monarchy was a mixed blessing at best, possessing, like every other human institution, its good and bad sides. Why this latter possibility is excluded so easily by some is not altogether clear. Nevertheless, the contributions of biblical criticism are now being applied to other texts with remarkably fruitful results. For example: New Directions in Pooh Studies: Überlieferungs- und religionsgeschichtliche Studien zum Pu-Buch.

  • I am grateful to know that Casey Bessette has been reading my book. He may not be aware that its author was baptized in the church he serves, Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, when it was located in Westchester, Illinois, just over half a century ago.
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    01 February 2009

    Genevan Psalms on the web

    The Genevan Psalms are gradually increasing their presence on the internet. To reflect this, I have recently updated my own Psalter pages by improving and adding to the section I've titled The Psalms on Youtube, differentiating in particular between those performances of Dutch and Hungarian origins. (As indicated before in this space, I far prefer what the latter have done with the Psalms to the former's treatments.) Below is Zoltán Kodály's haunting arrangement of Psalm 121, performed by the 270-year-old Debrecen College Cantus:



    And while we're on the subject of the Debreceni Református Kollégiumi Kántus (as it is known in Hungarian), their website boasts a number of excellent music files available for download. My own recommendations? Psalms 19, 46, 50, 65, and 114. The group definitely deserves more recognition on this side of the pond.

    And one more: I have just received an email from Hungary informing me of yet another website in that country devoted to the Genevan Psalms: Psalms sung by József Dinnyés, as set to verse by Albert Szenci Molnár (1574-1634). After listening to some of these pieces, I would judge that the effect is remarkably similar to the late Burl Ives singing his well-known folk ballads. It's worth a listen for its unique treatment of these ancient songs.

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